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Bipartisan Trio Of Former Lawmakers Launch Climate Change Effort In Suburban Columbus

More than a thousand people concerned about climate change turned out at Otterbein University in Westerville north of Columbus for the first town hall from an unlikely alliance of former lawmakers. They're part of a non-profit foundation called World War Zero.

Democratic former Secretary of State John Kerry laid out the grim numbers on rising emissions and temperatures that led him to develop World War Zero.

"Any scientist in the world will tell you that’s catastrophe,” Kerry said.

And Kerry said getting the world to push back against climate change deniers and enact policies toward net-zero carbon emissions is the greatest economic opportunity the US has ever had.

“It’s an opportunity to build out new infrastructure in our country, to build a new grid for our energy, to take clean energy from one part of the country and send it to the other, to use artificial intelligence and quantum computing and put together a future that is different," Kerry said.

Republican former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who noted he had vetoed a bill to roll back Ohio's renewable energy standards, said there needs to be more shifting to wind and solar energy, more serious efforts to taking carbon out of coal that’s burned, and more battery technology, especially in the US.

“We have to speed it up. And America has to lead. Can you imagine that America is not at the table? In my lifetime, I’ve never seen an America that was not at the table for good,” Kasich said.

And Republican former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had just come from his namesake sports and fitness festival in Columbus - which had been so dramatically scaled back because of fears of coronavirus that spectators were limited only to watching the finals. Schwarzenegger said the message has to be based on what’s happening now, not in the future, and it must be simple – like explaining to people the significance of lifting 550 pounds.

“They didn’t understand, how much weight is that really? But when you say this is an equivalent of a huge professional refrigerator, then they say, 'oh my God, someone can lift that, that’s really amazing',” Schwarzenegger said. “So you’ve got to put it in human terms so it doesn’t just go over our heads.”

There weren’t a lot of specific suggestions to the audience, but Kerry said this was the biggest thing that they could do: “Hold political people and so called leaders accountable. And how do you hold them accountable? You make sure you make our democracy work.”

There was a swipe at the Trump administration for leaving the Paris climate deal. But Kasich, an outspoken critic of President Trump going back to when he ran against him for president, said party allegiances are fine – to a point.

“Let’s not forget that we’re all in the same rowboat. And we can’t just be, one side rows this way and the other one rows the other and we don’t go anywhere,” Kasich said.

And Schwarzenegger agreed the environment can’t be political.

“It’s not a party issue at all because there is no Democratic air or Republican air. We all breathe the same air,” Schwarzenegger said, with his words being drowned out by applause.

There were several questions about the role of nuclear power, which became an issue last year with the bailout of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants.  

And not all of the conversation was overly friendly.

The last question came from Columbus activist Carolyn Harding, who pressed Kasich on his environmental record while governor. He defended his policies, “but I don’t apologize for fracking –“

Harding jumped in: “Do you still think fracking is good for the environment? Do you think the methane is good for the climate?"

As Kerry tried to step in, Harding continued, "I’m an activist. I’m doing what you asked us to do and hold you accountable.”

Kerry stood up for Kasich, saying there’s no litmus test to be a part of the coalition.

“I have a different view from him on fracking – we talked about it. But you know what? I am damn glad he is here as part of this coalition,” Kerry said to loud applause.

Kerry, who’s gotten other political leaders and celebrities to endorse World War Zero, said this was the first of a tour, and he hopes to have 10 million social media conversations on the issue.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau